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The Great Racism Experiment

”Blue eyed people are stupid, dumb, slow and lazy. They are unreliable, they blame others for their own faults and do not cooperate.’’ This stereotyping was part of a Dutch television show called the Great Racism Experiment by BNN. A social experiment where people were separated based on the color of their eyes.  The leader of the experiment was setting the brown-eyed up against the blue-eyed.

At first, the blue-eyed people laughed about the absurdity of the basis for their separation. The brown-eyed looked astonished when they were told that they were much wiser and stronger than the blue-eyed. The stereotypical description was repeated time and again and the possibility for the brown-eyed to stand up against the leader’s judgmental behavior was hardly taken up.

Then the blue-eyed were accused of doing things the wrong way. They didn’t listen, didn’t answer questions, they were using the wrong words or had a wrong facial expression. Thereby they failed to give correct answers and didn’t know a thing about social customs and norms. This negative approach initiated revolt by one or two blue-eyed, but eventually most of them assimilated to the rules. They knew they were overpowered and had no say in the way they were treated.

The gap widened. One brown-eyed girl decided to become a part of the inferior group, for she didn’t agree with the way they were treated and wanted to show her sympathy to the blue-eyed. But no other brown-eyed raised a question or argument to confront the leader. Their position was quite comfortable, even though they didn’t approve the unequal treatment. A blue-eyed boy broke down in tears. He said he knew what this experiment was about. Being judged on superficial features was something he had to deal with every day. Then the experiment came to an end.

When they were asked to put their emotions to paper the superior blue-eyed characterized themselves as angry, small, excluded,  humiliated, powerless and helpless. Then the brown-eyed were asked to  write down what the blue-eyed looked like during the experiment. Alone, attacked, void, frustrated, sad and uncomfortable were words that came up. But then the leader of the group told them that they were brave, strong, courageous and self-conscious in her eyes. The way they felt during the patronizing wasn’t what she noticed. The blue-eyed helped each other and stood up for their rights, they took a position and were not afraid to speak up for themselves.

The power is in the hands of the superior. Corresponding with the survival of the fittest theory, some are just not adapting as well as others do so the winners may rule. It’s not just an idea that comes along with social theory, it’s actually implemented in our minds. Thinking from our point of reference we project our own cultural norms and values upon others, without any consideration for the uniqueness and equality of otherness in general. Therefore we qualify people on their superficial features and depersonalize them by putting them in a certain social or cultural background.

The Great Racism Experiment uncovers not only the absurdity of stereotyping. Moreover it reveals shocking reality: we all take part in this game of winners and losers.

Can changing our culture change us?

TED always provides a great forum to discuss the future of our planet and how we, as humans, need to change the world. Two weeks ago the TEDx Maastricht event continued the tradition of spreading great ideas to help us find solutions to issues that we humans face. In this Blog post I would like to look at a couple of the speakers from September 4th‘s event in Maastricht and examine how our culture and society effects how we interact with the world. Many of the speakers argued that we need simple changes in our society to start to heal the world and this Blog will focus on these arguments.

The first speaking to fall into the category of pushing societal change came in the morning. Bart Knols talked about the growing social isolation that is plaguing western society.  Bart’s observations came from experiencing the differences on a train ride he experienced in Tanzania versus one in the Netherlands. The train in Tanzania was a social event where he met people, discussed the world and even sang and danced with total strangers but in the Netherlands he saw how people go into a bubble where they are isolated even though they are surrounded by people. This is the isolation that Bart wants to change, even though we are surrounded by people we don’t interact with them. However, there are solutions to the growing isolation that had been coming into our society and Bart Knols believes the solutions are very simple. On some trains in the Netherlands there have been experiments where you designate a train to be a social zone. This is all Bart believes it takes to make a change and it has been shown effective. By simply designating this environment as one to talk and socialize people did and it shows that humans are a product of our surroundings and by changing our surrounding you change human behavior.

On a completely different topic, Shyama Ramani gave a talk on bringing toilettes to the coastal towns of India. After the 2004 tsunami, many of the forests where women would relieve themselves were destroyed and a real need for toilettes arose when women lost the privacy that the forest provided.  When Shyama institute put toilettes in these towns the women used them but the men would still walk down to the beach and just go into the ocean. The issue that Shyama faced was how to change the patterns of the men that had been built into there culture since their ancestors settled on the shores of India. There were several ideas but one that showed success was a toilettes beauty contest where different villages battled to have the nicest water closet with cleanest and most beautiful hut that surrounds the toilet. The one condition for the contest was that the men had to use it for 6 months. This seems to be a form of social training and conditioning. Shyama Ramani was working hard to make toilet use a societal norm and to do this she must make permanent changes to the male Indians behavior to keep the men using toilettes. This would not only provide privacy for the women but it has been shown to raise hygiene levels throughout the towns.  Like Bart, Shyama is trying to make simple changes in people by changing their environment and it seems effective. It’s a pretty simple concept. Change the environment and it changes the people.

As the TED talks progressed throughout the day there were two talks that focused on the food we eat and changing the way we see food. Marian Peters tried to convince us that we should eat insects as a way to help create a more sustainable food industry and Mark Post talked about the hamburger he grew in a lab here at the University of Maastricht. A problem that both faced is how to make this food culturally accepted. Marian Peters has a more difficult job because bugs are not on the menu of our western culture. However, she makes the point that many societies around the world have no issues with eating bugs and are very integrated in many cuisines-such as in Laos. Marian Peters was at the TED talk to not only discuss why we should eat bugs but she was there to start to change our societies view on bugs. She made sure that there were enough chicken/bug nuggets (80% chicken 20% bugs) for everybody to try at lunch and the majority of the TED attendees actually tried the food that was 20% ground up insects. I did not try the bugs and I don’t want to… Marian Peters has a lot of work to change my dislike of bugs that has been ingrained in me my whole life. But that’s her goal. Marian Peters is trying to make insects a social accepted food source. I think she has a long way to go but it’s possible. If the children of western culture were to eat products with bugs in them since birth their generation would probably have no issues eating food with insect in them. Other cultures don’t have any issues eating bugs so what’s to say that we can’t change western culture to make insects a social accepted food source. Marian Peters has not convinced me yet but she made some very good points one day we might see insects on the list of ingredients in our favorite foods.

Mark Post has similar issues but not nearly as drastic as Marian Peters because eating beef that was grown in a lab often seems unnatural to real beef but doesn’t have a social stigma to work against. This makes it easier for Mark and he believes one day there will be meat incubators sitting in everybody’s kitchen next to the oven. One of the points Mark Post made about the beef is that he often has to tread lightly when talking about culture beef because some people have a hard time accepting it as an alternative. However, many people are willing to try the beef and so the hurdles are a lot smaller for Mark. But it still goes to show that even with cultured beef, there is a need to change our cultures attitude towards how we feed ourselves. These two talks and ideas are based in science and biology but both need a cultural change before they become accepted into our society.

While there were a lot of speakers that I could have discussed in the blog I chose these speakers because they specifically talked about changing societies and cultures to have positive effects on the world. They showed the power that social change can have on changing human behavior and this is an important message that many TED talks have been spreading.

We are social animals and our environment, culture and society have a huge influence on how we perceive the world and act in it. These speakers raise the point that if we change our environment we change humans. I think this is correct, but to what extent. Being a social species our surroundings have a very large influence and many of our issues can be solved by a change in culture. I wanted to write this blog post on social constructionism because I do believe humans are products of the surroundings. But, I think we are still heavily influenced by our monkey ancestry and I think our human biology still plays a huge part of human actions and interactions. The thirst for money, power, fame, and acceptance is part of human nature and while it may be a crucial in our make up I believe it can be overcome through societal changes. I thought one of the most inspiring talks of the day was by a 17 year old student, Rebecca Vos, who talked about changing the education system and one of the issues she talked about was reducing the hierarchy and power structure of education. She is making the push to not separate ourselves from each other and have everybody work together as one collective unit to better the world. This is a great idea because if we change the way our society interacts with each other it might prove powerful enough to overcome our human nature. Rebecca Vos’ talk made me very optimistic about the future because she is still in high school and if she can convince all her class mates to think like this then their generation with have built a culture of working together as one to overcome our human instincts and push our species forward towards a better and harmonious future.

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Whether I am right or wrong with my views of human behavior, the future is coming and it was nice to spend a day listening to some bright minds present solutions to issues that face our species. Our planet is resilient and will survive until it is swallowed up by the sun in 5 billion years, but as humans we will not necessarily survive. Because of this we need TED and we need these brilliant people to present their solutions so we can ensure a world that is habitable for the future generations.

 

Adam

About the author

I am Adam Daddino and I am a graduate student from University of San Francisco. This summer I was an intern at the Center for European Studies at Maastricht University which is what led me to TEDx. I studied history and religions and have done so with a sociological focus on human interactions with one another. Specifically how we balance the influence of our our biological nature with our social environment.

Full bottles, empty brains

This is it. It was only a matter of time. I am prepared for the fact that nobody will agree with me, that the majority of my (overwhelmingly large) readership will find me arrogant, conservative, judgmental, and a lot of other not-so-nice things. I know that this will happen because I am dealing with it on a regular basis. But this blog post was inevitable from the start. This is the post in which I shamelessly express my repulsion towards alcohol and a society that glorifies it. A.k.a. the society we live in.

If you’re a person that goes out almost every single night just for the sake of getting trashed, feel like there is nothing wrong with it, and you’re even proud of it, then there is a good chance that I hate you.

I have friends overseas and they drink specifically to deal with their nervousness and anxiety and to forget about their problems for a while. Because they didn’t get a loan for college, their parents hate and disowned them, they struggle to pay for two meals a day, and if they have a car it is so shabby it breaks down every morning on the way to work. I would now assume almost everyone that lives in Maastricht can afford to pay tuition fees, with or without study finance, and thanks to Aldi and the market none of us will have to worry about the possibility of starvation. Of course everyone has their own individual battles to fight, without a doubt, and admittedly not everyone is happy. But I would hardly call the general circumstances in this town as provoking to want to start binge drinking.

I always get asked this question, why don’t you drink? But there isn’t one good reason. There are a million. If I wanna keep the convo short I just give it the oh-so witty “Why should I?”. (In my opinion, the question should not be “Why don’t you drink?” but “Why do you drink?” anyway.) If the person insists on details I’ll tell them I don’t like the taste. This alone should be a good enough reason. But for many people it’s not, because drinking is just part of going out, and being young- what else is left for you to do if you don’t drink? But it is exactly this logic that makes me mad and goes against everything we are supposed to be- critical towards attitudes and things that remain unquestioned by the majority of people. And this is where for me, in addition to the taste, (and the poor, drunk creatures in the club or at house parties who don’t notice they reek of cigarettes and a mixture of alcoholic drinks) the issue becomes one of principle. This is also why I am way past that phase of being easily influenced by other people, through peer pressure or other means, even if every single person I meet still takes it as their mission to get me drunk at some point when they find out I don’t drink. (Joke’s on you, by the way!)

Just to clarify, I understand the reason people get together over a beer, have a glass of wine, or go out for cocktails. Heck, if you get out of your mind drunk once or twice a year to compensate for the pressure you’re under, I even have understanding for that. My problem lies with the general approval that students and other young people like us participate in the consumption of mind-altering substances for fun. I think it is shameful that we live in a society where it is normal, and even expected that you drink, that that makes you one of the “cool kids”, and that you’re stuck-up, antisocial and weird if you don’t. I refuse to take part in a lifestyle where drinking large amounts of alcohol to achieve intoxication is celebrated as “the time of your life”. I reject a culture that unconditionally accepts that the drunkest person in the room is praised and cheered on, and that being in an inebriated state is the goal, the definition of having fun and “living life to the fullest”. I repudiate the norms of a society that encourages senseless, heavy drinking. There is no glory in getting trashed.

Drinking provides everyone with an excuse. They did something embarrassing, they blame it on the alcohol. They made out with someone unattractive or cheated on their boy or -girlfriend, they weren’t able to make sound decisions. They are rude, insulting and yell terrible things at you, they didn’t know what they were doing… I want to be conscious of my decisions. I’m okay with it if that makes me boring. I might still not make the right ones but at least I was aware I was making them. No matter with what you might want to argue against this, alcohol changes your behavior. It either turns you into an obnoxious adult version of a 5-year old and your friends have to take care of you, or you become aggressively desperate to seduce someone with your new gained confidence and it is beyond you how anyone wouldn’t find you irresistible. I’m pretty okay with myself and if I want to be embarrassing, I’ll be it sober, and if I wanted to be a lying, cheating girlfriend, I’d also do that sober.

If you don’t drink, going to parties sucks. I think it is scandalous that, in order to have fun, kids are forced into drinking activities to endure the night and to have at least a bearable time. So many friends of mine admit that going out without drinking is terrible. When I say that that’s the reason I don’t really go out, a lot of people suggest me to go out anyway and if I don’t drink myself, just watch all the drunk people around me do stupid things, but it gets really old really quickly. Because after all, you’re still in an often enclosed darkened room with blasting music with nowhere to sit, surrounded by sweaty, touchy-feely people hunting for a victim for their reproductive purposes, spilling their drinks on you as you are squeezing your way past them. Welcome to my life.

This is how it is- either you get over yourself and join in on the “fun”, or you stick to what you actually want to do and flee. It is actually kind of like carnival. You can be one of the singing people in costumes or you can stay true to your grumpy self and avoid the wild hordes of crazy.

I have the conviction that it’s all psychological too. It’s about being part of something. You don’t want to be like me, standing around at parties with nothing but occasionally a plastic bottle of water in your hands. I would like to throw a party, and fill up bottles with fake alcohol. Then wait. And see what happens… I think this would make for a fabulous graduation party! In my opinion, we can do much better without it. The myth of “You can have fun without drinking” has, in my experience, proven to be true way too many times. I know there will never be a time in our culture where people like me will be in the majority. But I’m just saying, we can do better.

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Disclaimer: I have never been drunk in my life. I tried beer, wine, and champagne when I was younger, but the maximum amount of alcohol I have drunk would amount to maybe a regular sized beer bottle. People then give me the How-do-you-know-you-don’t-like-it-if-you-never-tried-it/never-been-drunk? -treatment. And to that I say, I don’t have to try to jump off a cliff to find out if I like it or not when I see dead people lying at the bottom of the mountain. I don’t have to try anything that is bad for me or alters my brain, especially if I am not tempted by it in the first place, and I shouldn’t have to justify myself for it. I never say to anyone that they have to go to a punk or hardcore show to be able to judge whether they like it or not (which they would never do anyway), and you can always leave a show if you want out. If you’re drunk you have to wait until it’s over. I know you don’t necessarily get drunk when you “go out to drink”, but that is often the objective. A major reason why I am extremely turned off by the idea of drinking or being drunk is seeing what it does to other people when I’m out.

Another ordinary visit to the supermarket

Last Friday I visited the supermarket. As a willing contributor to Dutch economy and my own fridge I entered the shop not knowing that I was soon to be confronted with some deep thoughts on society. As I stood before the fruits and vegetable section question number one arose: should I buy the cheap or fair trade bananas? I wondered whether fair trade is really a product of fair trade, whether buying expensive fair trade bananas would make a difference at all. Eventually I compensated the cheap bananas for fair trade coffee pads. Read more

Students debate: Are we active enough in and for the city of Maastricht?

You take two different views on the following topic:

“Maastricht students should be more involved in the city of Maastricht”.

One side filled with ‘important’ people of Maastricht, the other filled with representatives for all sides of student life.

The goal: to come up with solutions to make student life and local life become closer.

Because the debate panel was filled with key players around this topic, you could expect some good solutions and directions to work with for the near future. I got my hopes up too much.

Read more

21 Tips to Survive UCM (For UK Students)

So, after a semester at UCM, what I can say is this: a few words of warning/experience/advice/recommendation for future UCM students, especially those coming from the UK:

– UCM is tough. It is a higher work load than many other Universities. You will hear of your friends at uni in the UK doing far less work  with longer holidays. But this is the price we pay for doing so many different disciplines.

– Don’t do Contemporary World History in your first period (or Philosophy of Science). They are killers.

– A 7 is fine. UCM works on the 1 – 10 grading basis (not A, B, C)  10 is the best and 5.5 is a pass. However, I made the mistake of thinking that therefore a 7 is not really that good, where, in reality nobody ever really gets a 10. A 9 is almost unheard of. An 8 is pretty awesome. 7 is above average I would say. 6 is more than passing, and probably what most people are getting in their first semester. 5.5 is  a pass and passing at UCM means that in fact you are doing really well.

– Don’t feel guilty about what some of my friends call the ‘Native-English -guilt’. Generally UCM-ers speak more than one language, and it is not unusual to meet those enviable people who speak English, Dutch, German, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Japanese, Chinese, Urdu, Swahili and Ancient Greek. Oh, and they are learning Norwegian- just on the side. Don’t feel bad about this, as many UK students have simply not had as much opportunity to learn other languages in such depth. You get the opportunity to go to the language centre as part of UCM and many of your fellow students can help teach you.

–  Don’t underestimate the level of English. You may think that UCM is full of Germans and Dutch using English as a second or third language and therefore as a UK student, of course you would have a higher standard of English. But don’t be fooled, the standard set is high and I get the impression that UK students are not let off lightly.

– UCM is APA. APA is the American Psychological Association form of formatting essays. It is probably different from the footnote-ing style you may be used to with Highers/A-Levels etc. This takes time to get used to and UCM is very strict about the implementation of APA.

– You will have to specialise. You have an academic advisor and you have to plan out your  curriculum rigorously so there is not really a lot of room for trying too many different things out.

– Apartments in Maastricht are very different from halls in the UK. Be warned though, I would recommend getting into an international student house as the Dutch student houses can be a bit cliquey and often they do not have a ‘community’ feel, rather just individual rooms. This didn’t really suit me as I like to talk to people, especially if they are living one metre away. The Guesthouse is often full of exchange students and is a little pricey. Living in Belgium is an option, but then you cannot get the studyfinance. Also it is really quite far away.

– Germans are everywhere. Just saying.

–  You sometimes get asked questions in lectures. They notice if you fall asleep… not that I have ever done that….

– Bring some 50 cent coins for the coffee/hot choc machine on the first days, it helps you get through the day and the closest cash machine is at the Business faculty.

– Work Hard, Party Harder. Pretty self-explanatory.

– Referring to the point above, I would say that the Alla is to be avoided at all times unless completely drunk and reckless. If this is the case then I encourage you to enjoy the Alla with all your drunken might.

– Jobs are tricky-ish to get, but once you start to get to know people they become more and more easy to find out about. But having a job and UCM is also a challenge.

– Brits often drop out of UCM. (I blame the UK education system and the fact that not many UK students study abroad)

– Join Universalis. You get discounts. On everything.(It’s really easy to join on the Intro Days)

– Get an Albert Heijn Bonus Card.

– Speak up in PBL

– Join clubs and stuff, it can be lonely when you are not on a campus/in halls

– Choose Euroshopper

– Get a bike, you’re in the Netherlands now… Should cost about 50 to 80 euros.

And that’s just about all I can say so far…hope it helps for some of you who are hopefully starting at UCM in August. After just a semester I have to say that UCM is one of the best places to be, although tricky at first.